NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH
The empirical is the realm of the actual, the transcendental is the realm of the possible. It is not only the physical universe which is overwhelmingly composed of ‘dark matter’, the mental and intellectual universe is as well. Where facts exist, they are thought to refer to things which are actually there, despite the fact that they often get overturned and new facts are put in their place. Facts, of course, are largely irrefutable and you won’t get far without them, but the truth itself actually lies elsewhere, in the realm of the possible which can never become actual, for once a truth becomes a fact, it ceases being a truth and enters “the dull catalogue of common things” - to quote Keats. The transcendental is this realm of the possible rather than actual and the truth lies in this realm, not the other. Einstein’s theory that gravity, as a function of the curvature of space-time, could bend light, was a truth until it became a fact – that is to say until someone more mortal than Einstein himself had verified it and placed it in the “dull catalogue of common things”. Oedipus, struck out his eyes when the truth he both sought and also dreaded had crystalised into a fact – that is to say, had ceased being a possibility he dearly wanted to reject, and become something which Wittgenstein would say was the case and no longer just a possibility. In the sense a truth is like the wave before it has collapsed into a particle. As a wave, it has multiple possibilities, as a particle these multiple possibilities are finally reduced to one and one only. Suddenly its possibilities are behind it and it has entered the realm of the actual, the empirical.
The transcendental realm is likewise a realm of possibilities. It presupposes realms of theory and interpretation which can never be certain until they are proven as facts. Each of those theories and interpretations may be equally true - depending, of course, on how probable they are. But they may also be equally false. Some may be more statistically likely, but certainty will still elude them until they are established as facts – which is after the event, not before it. The particle was not a particle until it was observed as a particle – that is to say one which had gone through one of a number of slits – or whatever it is the wave has to pass through. Until then it was like a truth before it has become a fact. In other words, its truth existed only as one of many possibilities, each of which could have been both true and false. After a truth (wave) has traversed the analogical slit, it ceases to be a truth (wave) and becomes no more than a fact (particle) that can no longer be falsified.
The world is full of facts and they are of interest to us only because they are there - or should I say refer to things which are there. The world is, as Wittgenstein says, everything that is the case – which can be construed as everything which is a fact. The world contains no truths, only facts. Water boils at 100 degrees centigrade at sea-level, which, of course, is an important fact to know if we are by the seaside and want to make a cup of tea or boil an egg. Apart from that, it’s of very little interest. Truths have no place in the world until they become facts and then they cease to engage us. Truths only exist in the mind and the mind is precisely what the world is not – although a world could not exist without minds to construct them, of course. As Sartre said, consciousness (or mind) negates world and sets itself up on the ruins of the world. Truths are perceived by the mind, but truths are not in the world as such, only facts are, and they do not enter the world until they become facts and therefore stop being truths. Monsieur Poirot has a hunch that so and so did the crime, but he cannot prove it. He may be in possession of the truth (or may not) but this truth is not yet a fact. His task is to establish it as a fact and make it enter the world and, until that happens, his truth is no more than a hunch taxing his little grey cells. Here we see that the truth has a subjective dimension which facts do not. No-one can dispute a fact. Everyone can dispute a truth, because it is still ‘only in the mind’. Its ground is transcendental rather than empirical. To become empirical, it must pass through all the protocols of fact-making. So, in a sense, a fact is a truth which has been dubbed a fact by the world, which is perhaps why a nice bourgeois paper like The Grauniad has a section called “Comment is free; facts are sacred.” Facts, of course, share in the nature of the sacred; which is why they are revered, but that doesn’t mean they are the same thing as truths. A truth is what exists before it has been dubbed a fact and recognised as such. This also means that truth is not the same as knowledge, because, unlike knowledge, truths are things which are locked away from the world, that is to say they are merely convictions which have yet to cross the threshold of a world and been turned into facts. Therefore, the truth will always exist in the realm of the controversial. This is what makes truths poignant and dangerous – unlike facts - they exist in the realm of risk and there is still something at stake in them which isn’t in facts.
Wittgenstein, who clearly had a nose for the truth, says “The world is the totality of facts, not of things.” The world is clearly no more of things than it is of truths. We know facts; we blindly bump into things, because they exist beyond a world made up of the totality of facts. A tree in the generic sense is a fact, not a thing. This tree and that tree are things, however. Facts fit into hierarchical categories, things do not. Things are alone, standing there for themselves and no others, only related to other things through the totality of facts which transcends them as things and situates them as facts in the world. Things are unique. Facts are general. Things are aboriginal, facts are derivative and it is through their being aboriginal that things have something in common with truths – quite apart from the fact that truths themselves are more about things than facts. They are both outside of the world as Wittgenstein’s totality of facts. We encounter things individually, this stone or that stone, not stones in general. But, if we did not have the concept of stones in general, we could not know that what we had encountered was a stone and it therefore would not be part of our world. Their being part of a world implies our own familiarity with the kinds of thing that are in it such as stones. Perhaps that explains why poets, who are connected more directly to both things and truths are considered unworldly and are not really at home in a world of facts. However, let’s leave that in abeyance for now.
The world we live in is a world in which facts are valued more than truths. Facts are useful. Truths are not. In fact, truths are never welcome in a world which takes its bearings exclusively from facts, because they threaten that world and the taken-for-grantedness of its facts. Monsieur Poirot was always an annoying little sod – especially to the fact-minded Inspector Japp - because he valued the truth as much as the facts. Not that he disregarded the facts, but because he was able to draw a line of demarcation between the transcendental realm of the truth and the empirical realm of the fact, the inner and outer, he perceived a hell of a lot more things than Japp. Wittgenstein, of course, did not acknowledge an inner world and maybe he was right. Perhaps we should talk instead of inner events, and the coming to pass of truths as kinds of inner events, which may, or may not, impact on the external world of the fact.
I cannot emphasis too strongly this subjective dimension of truth as opposed to the objective realm of the fact, of truth as conviction before it is fact. The transcendental realm which harbours the truth (as it may harbour lies, fantasies, dreams, puns, bon mots, proto-plays, musical phrases, and so on and so forth), is a fundamentally uncertain one, because it is a realm of possibilities and multiple paradigms, each of which may be equally true, although they may exclude one another or cancel each other out. Human nature is such as to want definite answers, neatly pre-packaged in the form of facts. But what if there are only partial answers at best? Answers with fissures and gaps in the middle which continually open up and which constantly need to be filled in afresh? What price your theories, your transcendental assumptions, which promise the whole truth and end up only with parts of the truth? What does that do to the truth? Is truth something we can ever permanently possess like a fact? Or is it something like a path or road, without a final destination, which deposits facts en route, as the horse you are riding on deposits its dung? ‘The truth’ might be encapsulated in facts, but it will also surpass facts, while another truth will be incubated to challenge what has just been surpassed. So, once again, what if there was no such thing as the truth in the sense of a fact? What if the truth was only a way, like The Tao? Where would that leave those like the person I mentioned in the first paragraph who think the truth simply lies in the facts?